فصل 29

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فصل 29

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Chapter Twenty Nine

After days of careful negotiation, Matthew was able to arrange a visit to Rabbi Judah Loew. To make room for it, Gallowglass had to cancel my upcoming appointments at court, citing illness.

Unfortunately, this announcement caught the emperor’s attention, and the house was flooded with medicines: terra sigillata, the clay with marvelous healing properties; bezoar stones harvested from the gallbladders of goats to ward off poison; a cup made of unicorn horn with one of the emperor’s family recipes for an electuary. The latter involved roasting an egg with saffron before beating it into a powder with mustard seed, angelica, juniper berries, camphor, and several other mysterious substances, then turning it into a paste with treacle and lemon syrup. Rudolf sent Dr. H?jek along to administer it. But I had no intention of swallowing this unappetizing concoction, as I informed the imperial physician.

“I will assure the emperor that you will recover,” he said drily. “Happily, His Majesty is too concerned with his own health to risk traveling down Sporrengasse to confirm my prognosis.”

We thanked him profusely for his discretion and sent him home with one of the roasted chickens that had been delivered from the royal kitchens to tempt my appetite. I threw the note that accompanied it into the fire— “Ich verspreche Sie werden nicht hungern. Ich halte euch zufrieden. Rudolff”—after Matthew explained that the wording left some doubt as to whether Rudolf was referring to the chicken when he promised to satisfy my hunger.

On our way across the Moldau River to Prague’s Old Town, I had my first opportunity to experience the hustle and bustle of the city center. There, affluent merchants conducted business in arcades nestled beneath the three- and four-story houses that lined the twisting streets. When we turned north, the city’s character changed: The houses were smaller, the residents more shabbily dressed, the businesses less prosperous. Then we crossed over a wide street and passed through a gate into the Jewish Town. More than five thousand Jews lived in this small enclave smashed between the industrial riverbank, the Old Town’s main square, and a convent. The Jewish quarter was crowded—inconceivably so, even by London standards—with houses that were not so much constructed as grown, each structure evolving organically from the walls of another like the chambers in a snail’s shell.

We found Rabbi Loew via a serpentine route that made me long for a bag of bread crumbs to be sure we could find our way back. The residents slid cautious glances in our direction, but few dared to greet us. Those who did called Matthew “Gabriel.” It was one of his many names, and the use of it here signaled that I’d slipped down one of Matthew’s rabbit holes and was about to meet another of his past selves.

When I stood before the kindly gentleman known as the Maharal, I understood why Matthew spoke of him in hushed tones. Rabbi Loew radiated the same quiet sense of power that I’d seen in Philippe. His dignity made Rudolf’s grandiose gestures and Elizabeth’s petulance seem laughable in comparison. And it was all the more striking in this age, when brute force was the usual method of imposing one’s will on others. The Maharal’s reputation was based on scholarship and learning, not physical prowess.

“The Maharal is one of the finest men who has ever lived,” Matthew said simply when I asked him to tell me more about Judah Loew. Considering how long Matthew had roamed the earth, this was a considerable accolade.

“I did think, Gabriel, that we had concluded our business,” Rabbi Loew said sternly in Latin. He looked and sounded very much like a headmaster. “I would not share the name of the witch who made the golem before, and I will not do so now.” Rabbi Loew turned to me. “I am sorry, Frau Roydon. My impatience with your husband made me forget my manners. It is a pleasure to meet you.”

“I haven’t come about the golem,” Matthew replied. “My business today is private. It concerns a book.”

“What book is that?” Though the Maharal did not blink, a disturbance in the air around me suggested some subtle reaction on his part. Since meeting Kelley, I realized that my magic had been tingling as though plugged into an invisible current. My firedrake was stirring. And the threads surrounding me kept bursting into color, highlighting an object, a person, a path through the streets as if trying to tell me something.

“It is a volume my wife found at a university far away from here,” Matthew said. I was surprised that he was being this truthful. So was Rabbi Loew.

“Ah. I see we are to be honest with each other this afternoon. We should do so where it is quiet enough for me to enjoy the experience. Come into my study.”

He led us into one of the small rooms tucked into the warren of a ground floor. It was comfortingly familiar, with its scarred desk and piles of books. I recognized the smell of ink and something that reminded me of the rosin box in my childhood dance studio. An iron pot by the door held what looked like small brown apples, bobbing up and down in an equally brown liquid. Its appearance was witchworthy, conjuring up concerns about what else might be lurking in the cauldron’s unsavory depths.

“Is this batch of ink more satisfactory?” Matthew said, poking at one of the floating balls.

“It is. You have done me a service by telling me to add those nails to the pot. It does not require so much soot to make it black, and the consistency is better.” Rabbi Loew gestured toward a chair. “Please sit.” He waited until I was settled and then took the only other seat: a three-legged stool. “Gabriel will stand. He is not young, but his legs are strong.”

“I’m young enough to sit at your feet like one of your pupils, Maharal.” Matthew grinned and folded himself gracefully into a cross-legged position.

“My students have better sense than to take to the floor in this weather.” Rabbi Loew studied me. “Now. To business. Why has the wife of Gabriel ben Ariel come so far to look for a book?” I had a disconcerting sense that he wasn’t talking about my trip across the river, or even across Europe. How could he possibly know that I wasn’t from this time?

As soon as my mind formed the question, a man’s face swam in the air over Rabbi Loew’s shoulder. The face, though young, already showed worry creases around deep-set gray eyes, and the dark brown beard was graying in the center of his chin.

“Another witch told you about me,” I said softly.

Rabbi Loew nodded. “Prague is a wonderful city for news. Alas, half of what is said is untrue.” He waited for a moment. “The book?” Rabbi Loew reminded me.

“We think it might tell us about how creatures like Matthew and me came to be,” I explained.

“This is not a mystery. God made you, just as he made me and Emperor Rudolf,” the Maharal replied, settling more deeply into his chair. It was a typical posture for a teacher, one that developed naturally after years spent giving students the space to wrestle with new ideas. I felt a familiar sense of anticipation and dread as I prepared my response. I didn’t want to disappoint Rabbi Loew.

“Perhaps, but God has given some of us additional talents. You cannot make the dead live again, Rabbi Loew,” I said, responding to him as if he were a tutor at Oxford. “Nor do strange faces appear before you when you pose a simple question.”

“True. But you do not rule Bohemia, and your husband’s German is better than mine even though I have conversed in the language since a child. Each of us is uniquely gifted, Frau Roydon. In the world’s apparent chaos, there is still evidence of God’s plan.”

“You speak of God’s plan with such confidence because you know your origins from the Torah,” I replied. “Bereishit—‘In the beginning’—is what you call the book the Christians know as Genesis. Isn’t that right, Rabbi Loew?”

“It seems I have been discussing theology with the wrong member of Ariel’s family,” Rabbi Loew said drily, though his eyes twinkled with mischief.

“Who is Ariel?” I asked.

“My father is known as Ariel among Rabbi Loew’s people,” Matthew explained.

“The angel of wrath?” I frowned. That didn’t sound like the Philippe I knew.

“The lord with dominion over the earth. Some call him the Lion of Jerusalem. Recently my people have had reason to be grateful to the Lion, though the Jews have not—and will never—forget his many past wrongs. But Ariel makes an effort to atone. And judgment belongs to God.” Rabbi Loew considered his options and came to a decision. “The emperor did show me such a book. Alas, his Majesty did not give me much time to study it.”

“Anything you could tell us about it would be useful,” Matthew said, his excitement visible. He leaned forward and hugged his knees to his chest, just as Jack did when he was listening intently to one of Pierre’s stories. For a few moments, I was able to see my husband as he must have looked as a child learning the carpenter’s craft.

“Emperor Rudolf called me to his palace in hope that I would be able to read the text. The alchemist, the one they call Meshuggener Edward, had it from the library of his master, the Englishman John Dee.” Rabbi Loew sighed and shook his head. “It is difficult to understand why God chose to make Dee learned but foolish and Edward ignorant yet cunning.

“Meshuggener Edward told the emperor that this ancient book contained the secrets of immortality,” Loew continued. “To live forever is every powerful man’s dream. But the text was written in a language no one understood, except for the alchemist.”

“Rudolf called upon you, thinking it was an ancient form of Hebrew,” I said, nodding.

“It may well be ancient, but it is not Hebrew. There were pictures, too. I did not understand the meaning, but Edward said they were alchemical in nature. Perhaps the words explain those images.”

“When you saw it, Rabbi Loew, were the words moving?” I asked, thinking back to the lines I’d seen lurking under the alchemical illustrations.

“How could they be moving?” Loew frowned. “They were just symbols, written in ink on the page.”

“Then it isn’t broken—not yet,” I said, relieved. “Someone removed several pages from it before I saw it in Oxford. It was impossible to figure out the text’s meaning because the words were racing around looking for their lost brothers and sisters.”

“You make it sound as though this book is alive,” Rabbi Loew said.

“I think it is,” I confessed. Matthew looked surprised. “It sounds unbelievable, I know. But when I think back to that night, and what happened when I touched the book, that’s the only way to describe it. The book recognized me. It was . . . hurting somehow, as though it had lost something essential.”

“There are stories among my people of books written in living flame, with words that move and twist so that only those chosen by God can read them.” Rabbi Loew was testing me again. I recognized the signs of a teacher quizzing his students.

“I’ve heard those stories,” I replied slowly. “And the stories about other lost books, too—the tablets Moses destroyed, Adam’s book in which he recorded the true names of every part of creation.”

“If your book is as significant as they are, perhaps it is God’s will that it remain hidden.” Rabbi Loew sat back once more and waited.

“But it’s not hidden,” I said. “Rudolf knows where it is, even if he cannot read it. Who would you rather had the custody of such a powerful object: Matthew or the emperor?”

“I know many wise men who would say that to choose between Gabriel ben Ariel and His Majesty would only determine the lesser of two evils.” Rabbi Loew’s attention shifted to Matthew. “Happily, I do not count myself among them. Still, I cannot help you further. I have seen this book— but I do not know its present location.”

“The book is in Rudolf’s possession—or at least it was. Until you confirmed that, we only had Dr. Dee’s suspicions and the assurances of the aptly named Crazy Edward,” Matthew said grimly.

“Madmen can be dangerous,” observed Rabbi Loew. “You should be more careful who you hang out of windows, Gabriel.”

“You heard about that?” Matthew looked sheepish.

“The town is buzzing with reports that Meshuggener Edward was flying around Mal? Strana with the devil. Naturally, I assumed you were involved.” This time Rabbi Loew’s tone held a note of gentle reproof. “Gabriel, Gabriel. What will your father say?”

“That I should have dropped him, no doubt. My father has little patience with creatures like Edward Kelley.”

“You mean madmen.”

“I meant what I said, Maharal,” Matthew said evenly.

“The man you talk so easily about killing is, alas, the only person who can help you find your wife’s book.” Rabbi Loew stopped, considered his words. “But do you truly want to know its secrets? Life and death are great responsibilities.”

“Given what I am, you will not be surprised that I am familiar with their particular burdens.” Matthew’s smile was humorless.

“Perhaps. But can your wife also carry them? You may not always be with her, Gabriel. Some who would share their knowledge with a witch will not do so with you.”

“So there is a maker of spells in the Jewish Town,” I said. “I wondered when I heard about the golem.”

“He has been waiting for you to seek him out. Alas, he will see only a fellow witch. My friend fears Gabriel’s Congregation, and with good reason,” Rabbi Loew explained.

“I would like to meet him, Rabbi Loew.” There were precious few weavers in the world. I couldn’t miss the opportunity to meet this one.

Matthew stirred, a protest rising to his lips.

“This is important, Matthew.” I rested my hand on his arm. “I promised Goody Alsop not to ignore this part of me while we are here.”

“One should find wholeness in marriage, Gabriel, but it should not be a prison for either party,” said Rabbi Loew.

“This isn’t about our marriage or the fact that you’re a witch.” Matthew rose, his large frame filling the room. “It can be dangerous for a Christian woman to be seen with a Jewish man.” When I opened my mouth to protest, Matthew shook his head. “Not for you. For him. You must do what Rabbi Loew tells you to do. I don’t want him or anyone else in the Jewish Town to come to harm—not on our account.”

“I won’t do anything to bring attention to myself—or to Rabbi Loew,” I promised.

“Then go and see this weaver. I’ll be in the Ungelt, waiting.” Matthew brushed his lips against my cheek and was gone before he could have second thoughts. Rabbi Loew blinked.

“Gabriel is remarkably quick for one so large,” the rabbi said, getting to his feet. “He reminds me of the emperor’s tiger.”

“Cats do recognize Matthew as one of their kind,” I said, thinking of Sarah’s cat, Tabitha.

“The notion that you have married an animal does not distress you. Gabriel is fortunate in his choice of wife.” Rabbi Loew picked up a dark robe and called to his servant that we were leaving.

We departed in what I supposed was a different direction, but I couldn’t be sure, since all my attention was focused on the freshly paved streets, the first I’d seen since arriving in the past. I asked Rabbi Loew who had provided such an unusual convenience.

“Herr Maisel paid for them, along with a bathhouse for the women. He helps the emperor with small financial matters—like his holy war against the Turks.” Rabbi Loew picked his way around a puddle. It was then that I saw the golden ring stitched onto the fabric over his heart.

“What is that?” I said, nodding at the badge.

“It warns unsuspecting Christians that I am a Jew.” Rabbi Loew’s expression was wry. “I have long believed that even the dullest would eventually discover it, with or without the badge. But the authorities insist that there can be no doubt.” Rabbi Loew’s voice dropped. “And it is far preferable to the hat the Jews were once required to wear. Bright yellow and shaped like a chess piece. Just try to ignore that in the market.”

“That’s what humans would do to me and Matthew if they knew we were living among them.” I shivered. “Sometimes it’s better to hide.”

“Is that what Gabriel’s Congregation does? It keeps you hidden?”

“If so, then they’re doing a poor job of it,” I said with a laugh. “Frau Huber thinks there’s a werewolf prowling around the Stag Moat. Your neighbors in Prague believe that Edward Kelley can fly. Humans are hunting for witches in Germany and Scotland. And Elizabeth of England and Rudolf of Austria know all about us. I suppose we should be thankful that some kings and queens tolerate us.”

“Toleration is not always enough. The Jews are tolerated in Prague—for the moment—but the situation can change in a heartbeat. Then we would find ourselves out in the countryside, starving in the snow.” Rabbi Loew turned in to a narrow alley and entered a house identical to most other houses in most of the other alleys we passed through. Inside, two men sat at a table covered with mathematical instruments, books, candles, and paper.

“Astronomy will provide a common ground with Christians!” one of the men exclaimed in German, pushing a piece of paper toward his companion. He was around fifty, with a thick gray beard and heavy brow bones that shielded his eyes. His shoulders had the chronic stoop of most scholars.

“Enough, David!” the other exploded. “Maybe common ground is not the promised land we hope for.”

“Abraham, this lady wishes to speak with you,” Rabbi Loew said, interrupting their debate.

“All the women in Prague are eager to meet Abraham.” David, the scholar, stood. “Whose daughter wants a love spell this time?”

“It is not her father that should interest you but her husband. This is Frau Roydon, the Englishman’s wife.”

“The one the emperor calls La Diosa?” David laughed and clasped Abraham’s shoulder. “Your luck has turned, my friend. You are caught between a king, a goddess, and a nachzehrer.” My limited German suggested this unfamiliar word meant “devourer of the dead.”

Abraham said something rude in Hebrew, if Rabbi Loew’s disapproving expression was any indication, and turned to face me at last. He and I looked at each other, witch to witch, but neither of us could bear it for long. I twisted away with a gasp, and he winced and pressed his eyelids with his fingers. My skin was tingling all over, not just where his eyes had fallen. And the air between us was a mass of different, bright hues.

“Is she the one you were waiting for, Abraham ben Elijah?” Rabbi Loew asked.

“She is,” Abraham said. He turned away from me and rested his fists on the table. “My dreams did not tell me that she was the wife of an alukah, however.”

“Alukah?” I looked to Rabbi Loew for an explanation. If the word was German, I couldn’t decipher it.

“A leech. It is what we Jews call creatures like your husband,” he replied. “For what it is worth, Abraham, Gabriel consented to the meeting.”

“You think I trust the word of the monster who judges my people from his seat on the Qahal while turning a blind eye to those who murder them?” Abraham cried.

I wanted to protest that this was not the same Gabriel—the same Matthew—but stopped. Something I said might get everyone in this room killed in another six months when the sixteenth-century Matthew was back in his rightful place.

“I am not here for my husband or the Congregation,” I said, stepping forward. “I am here for myself.”

“Why?” Abraham demanded.

“Because I, too, am a maker of spells. And there aren’t many of us left.”

“There were more, before the Qahal—the Congregation—set up their rules.” Abraham said, a challenge in his tone. “God willing, we will live to see children born with these gifts.”

“Speaking of children, where is your golem?”

David guffawed. “Mother Abraham. What would your family in Chelm say?”

“They would say I had befriended an ass with nothing in his head but stars and idle fancies, David Gans!” Abraham said, turning red.

My firedrake, which had been restive for days, roared to life with all this merriment. Before I could stop her, she was free. Rabbi Loew and his friends gaped at the sight.

“She does this sometimes. It’s nothing to worry about.” My tone went from apologetic to brisk as I reprimanded my unruly familiar. “Come down from there!”

My firedrake tightened her grip on the wall and shrieked at me. The old plaster was not up to the task of supporting a creature with a ten-foot wingspan. A large chunk fell free, and she chattered in alarm. Her tail lashed out to the side and anchored itself into the adjacent wall for added security. The firedrake hooted triumphantly.

“If you don’t stop that, I’m going to have Gallowglass give you a really evil name,” I muttered. “Does anyone see her leash? It looks like a gauzy chain.” I searched along the skirting boards and found it behind the kindling basket, still connected to me. “Can one of you hold the slack for a minute while I rein her in?” I turned, my hands full of translucent links.

The men were gone.

“Typical,” I muttered. “Three grown men and a woman, and guess who gets stuck with the dragon?”

Heavy feet clomped across the wooden floors. I angled my body so that I could see around the door. A reddish gray creature wearing dark clothes and a black cap on his bald head was staring at my firedrake.

“No, Yosef.” Abraham stood between me and the creature, his hands raised as if he were trying to reason with it. But the golem—for this must be the legendary creature fashioned from the mud of the Moldau and animated with a spell—kept moving his feet in the firedrake’s direction.

“Yosef is fascinated by the witch’s dragon,” said David.

“I believe the golem shares his maker’s fondness for pretty girls,” Rabbi Loew said. “My reading suggests that a witch’s familiar often has some of his maker’s characteristics.”

“The golem is Abraham’s familiar?” I was shocked.

“Yes. He didn’t appear when I made my first spell. I was beginning to think I didn’t have a familiar.” Abraham waved his hands at Yosef, but the golem stared unblinking at the firedrake sprawled against the wall. As if she knew she had an admirer, the firedrake stretched her wings so that the webbing caught the light.

I held up my chain. “Didn’t he come with something like this?”

“That chain doesn’t seem to be helping you much,” Abraham observed.

“I have a lot to learn!” I said indignantly. “The firedrake appeared when I wove my first spell. How did you make Yosef?”

Abraham pulled a rough set of cords from his pocket. “With ropes like these.”

“I have cords, too.” I reached into the purse hidden in my skirt pocket for my silks.

“Do the colors help you to separate out the world’s threads and use them more effectively?” Abraham stepped toward me, interested in this variation of weaving.

“Yes. Each color has a meaning, and to make a new spell I use the cords to focus on a particular question.” I looked at the golem in confusion. He was still staring at the firedrake. “But how did you go from cords to a creature?”

“A woman came to me to ask for a new spell to help her conceive. I started making knots in the rope while I considered her request and ended up with something that looked like the skeleton of a man.” Abraham went to the desk, took up a piece of David’s paper, and, in spite of his friend’s protests, sketched out what he meant.

“It’s like a poppet,” I said, looking at his drawing. Nine knots were connected by straight lines of rope: a knot for its head, one for its heart, two knots for hands, another knot for the pelvis, two more for knees, and a final two for the feet.

“I mixed clay with some of my own blood and put it on the rope like flesh. The next morning Yosef was sitting by the fireplace.”

“You brought the clay to life,” I said, looking at the enraptured golem.

Abraham nodded. “A spell with the secret name of God is in his mouth. So long as it remains there, Yosef walks and obeys my instructions. Most of the time.”

“Yosef is incapable of making his own decisions,” Rabbi Loew explained. “Breathing life into clay and blood does not give a creature a soul, after all. So Abraham cannot let the golem out of his sight for fear Yosef will make mischief.”

“I forgot to take the spell out of his mouth one Friday when it was time for prayers,” Abraham admitted sheepishly. “Without someone to tell him what to do, Yosef wandered out of the Jewish Town and frightened our Christian neighbors. Now the Jews think Yosef’s purpose is to protect us.”

“A mother’s work is never done,” I murmured with a smile. “Speaking of which . . .” My firedrake had fallen asleep and was gently snoring, her cheek pillowed against the plaster. Gently, so as not to irritate her, I drew on the chain until she released her grip on the wall. She flapped her wings sleepily, became as transparent as smoke, and slowly dissolved into nothingness as she was absorbed back into my body.

“I wish Yosef could do that,” Abraham said enviously.

“And I wish I could keep her quiet by removing a piece of paper from under her tongue!” I retorted.

Seconds later I felt the sense of ice on my back.

“Who is this?” said a low voice.

The new arrival was not large or physically intimidating—but he was a vampire, one with dark blue eyes set into a long, pale face under dusky hair. There was something commanding about the look he gave me, and I took an instinctive step away from him.

“It is nothing that concerns you, Herr Fuchs,” Abraham said curtly.

“There is no need for bad manners, Abraham.” Rabbi Loew’s attention turned to the vampire. “This is Frau Roydon, Herr Fuchs. She has come from Mal? Strana to visit the Jewish Town.”

The vampire fixed his eyes on me, and his nostrils flared just as Matthew’s did when he was picking up a new scent. His eyelids drifted closed. I took another step away.

“Why are you here, Herr Fuchs? I told you I would meet you outside the synagogue,” Abraham said, clearly rattled.

“You were late.” Herr Fuchs’s blue eyes snapped open, and he smiled at me. “But now that I know why you were detained, I no longer mind.”

“Herr Fuchs is visiting from Poland, where he and Abraham knew each other,” Rabbi Loew said, finishing his introductions.

Someone on the street called out in greeting.”Here is Herr Maisel,” Abraham said. He sounded as relieved as I felt.

Herr Maisel, provider of paved streets and fulfiller of imperial defense budgets, broadcast his prosperity from his immaculately cut woolen suit, his fur-lined cape, and the golden circle that proclaimed him a Jew. This last was affixed to the cape with golden thread, which made it look like a nobleman’s insignia rather than a mark of difference.

“There you are, Herr Fuchs.” Herr Maisel handed a pouch to the vampire. “I have your jewel.” Maisel bowed to Rabbi Loew and to me. “Frau Roydon.”

The vampire took the pouch and removed a heavy chain and pendant. I couldn’t see the design clearly, though the red and green enamel were plain. The vampire bared his teeth.

“Thank you, Herr Maisel.” Fuchs held up the jewel, and the colors caught the light. “The chain signifies my oath to slay dragons, no matter where they are found. I have missed wearing it. The city is full of dangerous creatures these days.”

Herr Maisel snorted. “No more than usual. And leave the city’s politics alone, Herr Fuchs. It will be better for all of us if you do so. Are you ready to meet your husband, Frau Roydon? He is not the most patient of men.”

“Herr Maisel will see you safely to the Ungelt,” Rabbi Loew promised. He leveled a long look at Herr Fuchs. “See Diana to the street, Abraham. You will stay with me, Herr Fuchs, and tell me about Poland.”

“Thank you, Rabbi Loew.” I curtsied in farewell.

“It was a pleasure, Frau Roydon.” Rabbi Loew paused. “And if you have time, you might reflect on what I said earlier. None of us can hide forever.”

“No.” Given the horrors the Jews of Prague would see over the next centuries, I wished he were wrong. With a final nod to Herr Fuchs, I left the house with Herr Maisel and Abraham.

“A moment, Herr Maisel,” Abraham said when we were out of earshot of the house.

“Make it quick, Abraham,” Herr Maisel said, withdrawing a few feet.

“I understand you are looking for something in Prague, Frau Roydon. A book.”

“How do you know that?” I felt a whisper of alarm.

“Most of the witches in the city know it, but I can see how you are connected to it. The book is closely guarded, and force will not work to free it.” Abraham’s face was serious. “The book must come to you, or you will lose it forever.”

“It’s a book, Abraham. Unless it sprouts legs, we are going to have to go into Rudolf’s palace and fetch it.”

“I know what I see,” Abraham said stubbornly. “The book will come to you, if only you ask for it. Don’t forget.”

“I won’t,” I promised. Herr Maisel looked pointedly in our direction. “I have to go. Thank you for meeting me and introducing me to Yosef.”

“May God keep you safe, Diana Roydon,” Abraham said solemnly, his face grave.

Herr Maisel escorted me the short distance from the Jewish Town to the Old Town. Its spacious square was thronged with people. The twin towers of Our Lady of Tyn rose to our left, while the stolid outlines of the Town Hall crouched to our right.

“If we didn’t have to meet Herr Roydon, we would stop and see the clock strike the hours,” Herr Maisel said apologetically. “You must ask him to take you past it on your way to the bridge. Every visitor to Prague should see it.”

At the Ungelt, where the foreign merchants traded under the watchful eyes of the customs officer, the merchants looked at Maisel with open hostility.

“Here is your wife, Herr Roydon. I made sure she noticed all the best shops on her way to meet you. She will have no problem finding the finest craftsmen in Prague to see to her needs and those of your household.” Maisel beamed at Matthew.

“Thank you, Herr Maisel. I am grateful for your assistance and will be sure to let His Majesty know of your kindness.”

“It is my job, Herr Roydon, to see to the prosperity of His Majesty’s people. And it was a pleasure, too, of course,” he said. “I took the liberty of hiring horses for your journey back. They are waiting for you near the town clock.” Maisel touched the side of his nose and winked conspiratorially.

“You think of everything, Herr Maisel,” Matthew murmured.

“Someone has to, Herr Roydon,” responded Maisel.

Back at the Three Ravens, I was still taking my cloak off when an eightyear-old boy and a flying mop practically knocked me off my feet. The mop was attached to a lively pink tongue and a cold black nose.

“What is this?” Matthew bellowed, steadying me so that I could locate the mop’s handle.

“His name is Lobero. Gallowglass says he will grow into a great beast and that he might as well have a saddle fitted for him as a leash. Annie loves him, too. She says he will sleep with her, but I think we should share. What do you think?” Jack said, dancing with excitement.

“The wee mop came with a note,” Gallowglass said. He pushed himself away from the doorframe and strolled over to Matthew to deliver it.

“Need I ask who sent the creature?” Matthew said, snatching at the paper.

“Oh, I don’t think so,” Gallowglass said. His eyes narrowed. “Did something happen while you were out, Auntie? You look done in.”

“Just tired,” I said with a breezy wave of my hand. The mop had teeth as well as a tongue, and he bit down on my fingers as they passed by his asyet-undiscovered mouth. “Ouch!”

“This has to stop.” Matthew crushed the note in his fingers and flung it to the floor. The mop pounced on it with a delighted bark.

“What did the note say?” I was pretty sure I knew who had sent the puppy.

“‘Ich bin Lobero. Ich will euch aus den Schatten der Nacht zu schützen,’” Matthew said flatly.

I made an impatient sound. “Why does he keep writing to me in German? Rudolf knows I have a hard time understanding it.”

“His Majesty delights in knowing I will have to translate his professions of love.”

“Oh.” I paused. “What did this note say?”

“‘I am Lobero. I will protect you from the shadow of night.’”

“And what does ‘Lobero’ mean?” Once, many moons ago, Ysabeau had taught me that names were important.

“It means ‘Wolf Hunter’ in Spanish, Auntie.” Gallowglass picked up the mop. “This bit of fluff is a Hungarian guard dog. Lobero will grow so big he’ll be able to take down a bear. They’re fiercely protective—and nocturnal.”

“A bear! When we bring him back to London, I will tie a ribbon around his neck and take him to the bearbaitings so that he can learn how to fight,” Jack said with the gruesome delight of a child. “Lobero is a brave name, don’t you think? Master Shakespeare will want to use it in his next play.” Jack wriggled his fingers in the puppy’s direction, and Gallowglass obligingly deposited the squirming mass of white fur in the boy’s arms. “Annie! I will feed Lobero next!” Jack pelted up the stairs, holding the dog in a death grip.

“Shall I take them away for a few hours?” Gallowglass asked after getting a good look at Matthew’s stormy face.

“Is Baldwin’s house empty?”

“There are no tenants in it, if that’s what you mean.”

“Take everybody.” Matthew lifted my cloak from my shoulders.

“Even Lobero?”

“Especially Lobero.”

Jack chattered like a magpie throughout supper, picking fights with Annie and managing to send a fair bit of food Lobero’s way through a variety of occult methods. Between the children and the dog, it was almost possible to ignore the fact that Matthew was reconsidering his plans for the evening. On the one hand, he was a pack animal and something in him enjoyed having so many lives to take care of. On the other hand, he was a predator and I had an uneasy feeling that I was tonight’s prey. The predator won. Not even Tereza and Karol?na were allowed to stay.

“Why did you send them all away?” We were still by the fire in the house’s main, first-floor room, where the comforting smells of dinner still filled the air.

“What happened this afternoon?” he asked.

“Answer my question first.”

“Don’t push me. Not tonight,” Matthew warned.

“You think my day has been easy?” The air between us was crackling with blue and black threads. It looked ominous and felt worse.

“No.” Matthew slid his chair back. “But you’re keeping something from me, Diana. What happened with the witch?”

I stared at him.

“I’m waiting.”

“You can wait until hell freezes over, Matthew, because I’m not your servant. I asked you a question.” The threads went purple, beginning to twist and distort.

“I sent them away so that they wouldn’t witness this conversation. Now, what happened?” The smell of cloves was choking.

“I met the golem. And his maker, a Jewish weaver named Abraham. He has the power of animation, too.”

“I’ve told you I don’t like it when you play with life and death.” Matthew poured himself more wine.

“You play with them all the time, and I accept that as part of who you are. You’re going to have to accept it’s part of me, too.”

“And this Abraham. Who is he?” Matthew demanded.

“God, Matthew. You cannot be jealous because I met another weaver.”

“Jealous? I am long past that warmblooded emotion.” He took a mouthful of wine.

“Why was this afternoon different from every other day we spend apart while you’re out working for the Congregation and your father?”

“It’s different because I can smell every single person you’ve been in contact with today. It’s bad enough that you always carry the scent of Annie and Jack. Gallowglass and Pierre try not to touch you, but they can’t help it—they’re around you too much. Then we add the scents of the Maharal, and Herr Maisel, and at least two other men. The only scent I can bear to have mixed with yours is my own, but I cannot keep you in a cage, and so I endure it the best I can.” Matthew put down his cup and shot to his feet in an attempt to put some distance between us.

“That sounds like jealousy to me.”

“It’s not. I could manage jealousy,” he said, furious. “What I am feeling now—this terrible gnawing sense of loss and rage because I cannot get a clear impression of you in the chaos of our life—I cannot seem to control.” His pupils were large and getting larger.

“That’s because you are a vampire. You’re possessive. It’s who you are,” I said flatly, approaching him in spite of his anger. “And I am a witch. You promised to accept me as I am—light and dark, woman and witch, my own person as well as your wife.” What if he had changed his mind? What if he wasn’t willing to have this kind of unpredictability in his life?

“I do accept you.” Matthew reached out a gentle finger and touched my cheek.

“No, Matthew. You tolerate me, because you think that one day I’ll manage my magic into submission. Rabbi Loew warned me that tolerance can be withdrawn, and then you’re out in the cold. My magic isn’t something to manage. It’s me. And I’m not going to hide myself from you. That’s not what love is.”

“All right. No more hiding.”

“Good.” I sighed with relief, but it was short-lived.

Matthew had me out of the chair and up against the wall in one clean move, his thigh pressed between mine. He pulled a curl free so that it trailed down my neck and onto my breast. Without releasing me, he bent his head and pressed his lips to the edge of my bodice. I shivered. It had been some time since he’d kissed me there, and our sex life had been practically nonexistent since the miscarriage. Matthew’s lips brushed along my jaw and over the veins of my neck.

I grabbed his hair and pulled his head away. “Don’t. Not unless you plan on finishing what you start. I’ve had enough bundling and regretful kisses to last a lifetime.”

With a few blindingly fast vampire moves, Matthew had loosened the fastenings on his britches, rucked my skirts around my waist, and plunged inside me. It wasn’t the first time I’d been taken against the wall by someone trying to forget his troubles for a few precious moments. On several occasions I’d even been the aggressor.

“This is about you and me—nothing else. Not the children. Not the damn book. Not the emperor and his gifts. Tonight the only scents in this house will be ours.”

Matthew’s hands gripped my buttocks, and his fingers were all that was saving me from being bruised as his thrusts carried my body toward the wall. I wrapped my hands in the collar of his shirt and pulled his face toward mine, ravenous for the taste of him. But Matthew was no more willing to let me control the kiss than he was our lovemaking. His lips were hard and demanding, and when I persisted in my attempts to get the upper hand, he gave me a warning nip on the lower lip.

“Oh, God,” I said breathlessly as his steady rhythm set my nerves rushing toward a release. “Oh—”

“Tonight I won’t even share you with Him.” Matthew kissed the rest of my exclamation away. One hand retained its grip on my buttock, the other dipped between my legs.

“Who has your heart, Diana?” Matthew asked, a stroke of his thumb threatening to take me over the edge of sanity. He moved, moved again. Waited for my answer. “Say it,” he growled.

“You know the answer,” I said. “You have my heart.”

“Only me,” he said, moving once more so that the coiled tension finally found release.

“Only . . . forever . . . you,” I gasped, my legs shaking around his hips. I slid my feet to the floor.

Matthew was breathing heavily, his forehead pressed to mine. His eyes showed a flash of regret as he lowered my skirts. He kissed me gently, almost chastely.

Our lovemaking, no matter how intense, had not satisfied whatever was driving Matthew to keep pursuing me in spite of the fact that I was indisputably his. I was beginning to worry that nothing could.

My frustration burbled over, taking shape in a concussive wave of air that carried him away from me and into the opposite wall. Matthew’s eyes went black at his change of position.

“And how was that for you, my heart?” I asked softly. His face registered surprise. I snapped my fingers, releasing the air’s hold on him. His muscles flexed as he regained his mobility. He opened his mouth to speak. “Don’t you dare apologize,” I said fiercely. “If you’d touched me in a way I didn’t like, I would have said no.”

Matthew’s mouth tightened.

“I can’t help thinking about your friend Giordano Bruno: ‘Desire urges me on, as fear bridles me.’ I’m not afraid of your power, or your strength, or anything else about you,” I said. “What are you afraid of, Matthew?”

Regretful lips brushed over mine. That, and a whisper of breeze against my skirts, told me he had fled rather than answer.

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